A Graduation To Remember, After So Many Moments Were Canceled
There was a visible addition to the commencement regalia and pomp for McCluer North High School class of 2020: face masks.
When the seniors paraded into a parking lot at the former St. Louis Mills Mall Sunday, they had face masks with their school’s logo and graduation year to match their caps and gowns. It was all part of an attempt to orchestrate a socially distanced graduation ceremony and give these teens a proper send-off after so much else in their senior year was missed.
When schools abruptly closed in March to stem the spread of the pandemic, more than in-person classes were canceled: Senior skip days, prom, spring sports were all waylaid.
“The corona did get in the way of it, but we came out and today we’re graduating,” said Jhalen Taylor, an 18-year-old senior from Florissant.
Just at a time when teens usually earn more freedom and independence, seniors like Taylor have been stuck inside with their parents. At times he found it hard to find the motivation to do his schoolwork.
“Senioritis hit crazy,” Taylor said. "It was days I would wake up and just see eight more assignments, and it was just like, ‘You know what, today is not the day,’ and I’d just go right back to sleep. But then I realized, they got due dates on them, I gotta hurry up and do these.”
After some students and parents worried they’d get their diplomas in the mail, Ferguson-Florissant was among the school districts that signed up for a drive-in-type commencement to be held at the old mall in Hazelwood. More than 2,700 students — mostly from Ferguson-Florissant and Rockwood districts — walked across the stage at what’s now called the Powerplex as families (mostly) stayed in their cars to watch on jumbotrons and listen on their radio.
Families squeezed into decorated cars — and a few 14-passenger vans — to get into the parking lot.
“So it’s like at the drive-in back in the day, whoever you can squeeze in the car can get in on a ticket,” said Sherricka Coleman, Taylor’s mother.
Then the tailgating began. Many stood on the roof for a better view and held signs.
“Everything is not the same; I actually think this is better,” said Monique Coleman, whose daughter graduated. “Everyone’s together, we have signs. As long as everyone’s social distancing, we’re good.”
The students sat six feet apart in chairs spread across astroturf that covered the asphalt. A barricade separated them from families. They were instructed to only bump elbows and refrain from hugs and high-fives.
For these students, graduation day doubled as a class reunion. Many hadn’t seen their friends in two months and probably won’t see some again after this day.
“It’s very bittersweet to see them again, but I can’t really hug them or touch them or anything like that, obviously. We’ve done the little arm bump,” said Mikayla Parson, a senior who was a valedictorian.
But when someone in a fancy gown says "congratulations graduates," streamers shoot from the sky and caps start flying, the instinct is to hug someone, which many of them did.
“It’s been very memorable to say the least,” said senior Passion Barriere. “I never expected my graduation to go like this, but it’s certainly a graduation no one will forget.”
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